Interviews

Why Plastic Surgeon Dr. Urmen Desai Doesn’t Separate Work and Play

Why Plastic Surgeon Dr. Urmen Desai Doesn’t Separate Work and Play

When describing Urmen Desai, MD, it’s tempting to home in on his impressive résumé: A quick scan of his CV reveals that he holds degrees from Harvard®, Columbia®, MITTM;, and BrownTM;. You may also notice the words “plastic and reconstructive surgery” blended with unexpected terms like “art.” Yet, despite these objectively impressive feats, distilling Dr. Desai to his bullet-able accomplishments would hardly do him justice.

When I meet Dr. Desai for our interview, he is punctual, peppy, and exceedingly personable — not to mention, stylishly outfitted. He has, for lack of better verbiage, that je ne sais quoi that simply cannot be learned from school (medical or otherwise).

Of course, no surgeon can rest solely on well-tailored suits and charm. It’s Dr. Desai’s work, particularly with breast augmentations, that has garnered him a loyal client base over the years. Today, many of those clients reside in California. “I’ve put my roots down in Beverly Hills,” the double-board certified surgeon says of his eponymous practice.

The Boston native completed residency in Miami, and subsequently practiced in New York City. Before he was zooming across coasts, however, he was exploring rural areas in China and Haiti. Interestingly, it was in these locales — not the glitzy plastic surgery hubs of the United States — where Dr. Desai initially decided to pursue plastic surgery. Below, the doctor shares his story, plus words of career wisdom — including his theory on work-life balance, which might just make you rethink your day job.

Spotlyte: Did you always know you wanted to be a doctor?

Dr. Urmen Desai: When you grow up as an Indian kid in the United States, you're kind of forced to go into a profession where you're going to be successful and have a high income. To some degree, I was a little bit brainwashed into becoming a doctor. But with brainwashing comes what you end up actually wanting to do. 

Spotlyte: Tell us a little bit about your path to plastic surgery.

UD: My path was first into neurosurgery; in college, I was a neuroscience major. However, towards the end of my fourth year of medical school, I went to China for a cleft lip and palate project. [A team and I] went to rural Southwest China, close to the Tibet border. We set up a surgical camp, where we operated on young kids. These kids walked for days, took buses for hours, and came out of nowhere to come to our surgical camp to have their cleft lips and palates repaired.

In the United States, you never see people walking around with cleft lips and palates, because they’re repaired before they even leave the hospital [at birth]. But in rural China, and rural communities around the world, they don't really have access to plastic surgeons.

Spotlyte: How many patients did you treat during that trip?

UD: We repaired 200 kids in a matter of two and a half weeks. It’s a quick, 45-minute surgery, and it changed these kids' lives.

Spotlyte: Aside from the aesthetic aspect, how, specifically, did you see this surgery change lives?

UD: In some communities, if your child has a cleft lip, everybody else in the village thinks it's contagious. So nobody can talk to the child, or even go near that kid. Other children cannot play with that kid. The kid can't go to school. They can't have a relationship, obviously. They will never get married . . . or get a job, really.

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Spotlyte: How do you manage to have free time?

UD: You've got to make the time, you know? If you do what you love, it's not work.

Spotlyte: Care to elaborate?

UD: I'm not punching in and punching out. When you have your own private practice, it becomes a part of you. It's your brand; it’s who you are.

I don't think Beyoncé wakes up in the morning and says, “Oh, I got to go to work today.” It's just who she is. She's Beyoncé, and I'm Dr. Desai. I'm not saying I'm so great, and I'm not comparing myself to any celebrity — I'm just saying [my job] is just naturally who I am. It's what I love to do. Operating and seeing patients is fun. So it's not work, you know? 

Spotlyte: You also do reconstructive work. What kinds of cases does that entail?

UD: Maybe a young girl gets a cut to the face. Or a celebrity in Beverly Hills, in Hollywood — we see a lot of actors and actresses — gets a cut on their face. They’ll want a board-certified Beverly Hills plastic surgeon to come repair their laceration.

Sometimes, I have to get up at two in the morning because there may be an actor or an actress in the emergency room who requests a plastic surgeon. Even though it's a little bit painful to wake up at two in the morning, I don't really see that as work. It's pretty cool when you see them on the big screen weeks later, and you're trying to look for the scar, but you can't find it — you're like, “Wow, that's pretty good.”

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